Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bitola to Athens: One Long Day

From Ohrid, we hopped on a bus that took us south in Macedonia to the town of Bitola (photograph below). Bitola wasn't much to write home about, but there were some cool ruins nearby, Heraclea Lyncestis, that we checked out. We were happy to just have a really chilled out day in preparation for our long travel day that followed. The route: Bitola to Florina (just across the border in Greece), then Florina to Thessaloniki by train, the day in Thessaloniki and then the overnight train to Athens.

We encountered an interesting dilemma when planning our route over the border into Greece: Macedonians cannot obtain visas to enter Greece. There's nothing like a couple thousand year feud to become a travel headache. We eventually found a driver with a Bulgarian passport to take us into Greece and ended up enjoying the harsh stares from both the Macedonian and Greek border guards as they went through our backpacks. The train from Florina to Thessaloniki was only 3 hours and we arrived in time for lunch on the very pretty waterfront.

We enjoyed Thessaloniki, which was a bit of a surprise. It's a very walkable city and we loved how on a typical 2009 street we would suddenly be standing in front of a huge, ancient Grecian arch; or have to maneuver our way around the ruins of a Roman bath. One highlight (as per usual for me) was the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography.

But the best part of Thessaloniki happened toward the end of our evening. Unfortunately, a storm rolled across the Adriatic and slammed into the city - thunder & lightning and torrential rain. Before leaving on the trip, I had picked up two "emergency camping ponchos" in lieu of packing an actual raincoat. So on they went. They were plastic and bright blue and completely hideous. Many jokes along the line of "Do you think they know we're travelling together?" were made. However, our evening in Thessaloniki happened to collide with the Greek PM being in town to give a speech before the EU elections. The centre of the city was full of thousands of people waving Greek flags and in our blue ponchos...we fit right in. We had numerous people coming up to us and asking where we had got our ponchos...or just slapping us on the back, high fiving us, and in one case, hugging us, for our Greek nationalistic pride. Go Greece!

No comments: